Origin of the Icelanders part 3

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Incurable age

In his account of the Gothic wars Procopius talks
about the Heruli, their history, traditions and customs. He says among
other things that among them was the custom, that when men were decrepit
from old age or sick, that then they were not allowed life. A funeral
pyre was then built and then the one not deemed fit to life was laid on
it. Then they sent after someone not related to him and it was his task
to kill the one lying on the pyre. It was not thought fitting to let his
kinsmen be the executioner. After the killing the kinsmen of the dead
person rushed towards and pyre and put fire to it. When the fire went
died out, the bones of the dead one were picked up and put in a grave.
Procopius also says, that it was thought fitting for a widow of a
deceased Heruli, if she wanted to keep her honor and dignity, that she
committed suicide shortly after her spouses death by hanging herself by
his grave. That custom, that women hanged themselves with their husbands
dead is reminiscent of the telling from the Saga of Hervör about the
woman, who was so furious after her fathers fall that she hanged
herself. This custom of the Heruli to kill condemned men is consistent
with Snorris account: "Odin died in his bed in Sweden. And when he was
about to die, he had himself marked with a spear and made all men who
died from arms his."
About Njord Snorri says similar: "Njord died in
his bed. He had himself marked with Odin, before he died. The Swedes
cremated him and wept over his grave." The custom that old men were
killed and then cremated, is unique among the Heruli and points to, that
Snorri the used ancient tales of this tribe. Thus are here also strong
arguments for, that Icelanders are descended from the Heruli.

Limited favor of kings

more thing from Procopius is interesting, when you keep in mind
Icelanders lack of kings. He says that Heruli kings were consiered no
better than other freemen. Once the Heruli killed their king (this king
Procopius names Ochus), not because he had done anything wrong, but
rather because they didnt want to have a king over them any more. The
Heruli regreted this deed and sent for a new king. Procopius says that a
voyage was made to "Thule" to find a new king. With this acquisition of
a new king, follows a description of Thule, and its inhabitants
lifestyle and customs, but it is so peculiar,that it is uneccesary to
include it here. About the Heruli wishes for no kings, they would not be
fullfilled until the ninth century north in Iceland.


his "Germania" Tacitus discusses the gods of the Germanic tribes. He
beleives Mercury (Odin) to have been the supreme god and that human
sacrifises were given to him. This fits Procopius accounts of the gods
of the Heruli, but he says, that they worshipped many gods and
sacrifised men to them. Next to Mercury Tacitus says is Mars (Tyr) and
the third he names Hercules (Thor). Mars and Hercules were pleased with
animal sacrifises. He also mentions the godess Nerthus, which is the
same name as Njord, only an older version, and after Tacitus description
Njord/Nerthus is clearly a fertility god. In the settlement period,
Thor, Odin and Freyr were the main gods of Scandinavia. Njord appears to
have been worshipped considerably, althought less than once. In Iceland
there is nowhere mentioned any worship of Njord, but it shall be kept
in mind, that in the oath staff of the Icelanders, which each man who
made a law oath, had to say, the gods were thus invoked: "So help us
Freyr and Njord and the almighty Áss" here appears the Heruli worship of
Now it does not really matter, thought it will not be able
to show the Heruli worship of Nerthus in the form of Njord in Iceland,
for the Vanir gods Freyr and Freyja are the successors of the fertility
godess in our ancestors religious life. Tacitus says: "we find it
washing the country of the Aestii, who have the same customs and
fashions as the Suebi, but a language more like the British. They
worship the Mother of the gods, and wear, as an emblem of this cult, the
device of a wild boar,which stands them in stead of armour or human
protection and gives the worshipper a sense of security even among his

Swine and fertility

Among our ancestors swine
worship was well connected with the worship of the Vanir gods. Freyja
and the sow have the synonym Sýr, but Freyr and the boar the synomyn
Vaningi. Following both of the gods are the boar Gullinbursti or
Hildisvín. Remnants of the ancient fertility worship Barði Guðmundsson
believed came out in farmnames in Iceland,Saurar(Saur means dung in
modern Icelandic but meant seed or sperm in old Icelandic),Saurbær,
Sýrströnd, Súrnadalur. Barði cites this after Guðbrandur Vigfússon in
his essay "Chronology in the Icelandic sagas", when Guðbrandur talks
about the coming of Þorbjörn súr from Súrnadal: "We know, that wherever
in Iceland and Norway those placenames are found, there was in antiquity
a worship of Freyr and Freyja more than in other places." Saur. a
synomyn for plant seeds and the sperm of men, is apparently spun from
the same kind. Where the lifeforce and the grower made their presence
felt, our ancestors would have presumed, that was the wight of
fertility. That wight would have once carried the name Saur and was
worshipped. The meaning of the word Saur as physical or spiritual
uncleaness Barði believes is from later influences of the Christian
church, that is the gross fate the word saur had gotten in the
linguistic development. The ancient Saur religion was closely connected
to sexual life and thus was greatly dispised by Christians. To "worship
holy gods" is intercourse between man and woman say in a stanza in
Ragnars saga. The wording points to the ancient connection between
worship and "saurlífi". At the worship of Freyr among the Swedes
knowledgable men believe, that sexual intercourse took place as some
kind of rite.
Temples and churches
If the word saur had been so
bad to the ears of heathen men as christian descendants, noone would
have named their homes after such wickedness, and Barði suspects that
sometimes men effaced saur names from their farms.
Then he says it is
often the intention of leading scholars, that churches were often built
on the sites of pagan shrines or near them. The Icelandic hof
(temple)farms are a fine example. Barði quotes Ólafur Lárussons study of
the number of old church places among various farm name groups. Of the
hof farms 37.5% were church places. The second most common of the church
farm were in the group of Fell farms, but interestingly the number of
church locations which are of the Saur group, is 26.4%, or a half more
than the Fell farms. It may be noted that most of the Saur farms, which
are not known to have been church farms, lie very close to old
churches, and it is well known that there was a chapel once. Many more
examples about swine and fertility worship and belief in Freyr and
Freyja Barði brings to his support.
In his chapter about the worship
of Freyr "Heathen custom in Iceland", Ólafur Briem supports Barðis
theory. Thus it can be said, that the ancient religion which can be
traced from the Black sea to Iceland, from our forfathers the Heruli to
the Icelandic settlers, have been defined.

It is hard to explain adequatly Barðis creative theories in a brief article and this what will have to suffix.
reading Barðis book you can hardly avoid belief his allegation that
"the nation is older than the settlement of Iceland", as he brings forth
to his support numerous other theories than those that have been
mentioned above. It can be said that even though his theories have
usually been neglected, Barði Guðmundsson has had an impact which will
barely disappear quickly. For evidence of that are the writings of dr.
Kristján Eldjárn and Ólafur Briem, like is mentioned above, and while
reading Sigurður Nordals book "Icelandic culture", Barðis influences are
found. Likely we will have to wait a while until Barðis theories gain
common favor atleast not while men let the belief in a norwegian origin
of the Icelanders blind themselves so that they cant see beyound their
nose. It will hardly be evaded however that the light path, which Barði
saw glitter in the dusk of heathen antiquity, will be more travelled
when times go by.

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